News from the Tennessee Valley State, Local and National news
SUNDAY, MAY 13, 2007

This house is at 2805 Upper River Road S.E. Alabama 67 is in the background.
Daily photo by Chris Paschenko
This house is at 2805 Upper River Road S.E. Alabama 67 is in the background.

Blight battles
Decatur cites 411 weed, junk and litter cases in April

By Chris Paschenko · 340-2442

Complaints of overgrown lawns, junk cars and unsafe housing kept city employees busy in April.

And if the trend continues during the height of the growing season, Decatur’s Community Development Department could need additional help enforcing the city’s weed, junk and litter ordinance, its director said Friday.

Michelle Gilliam Jordan, director of Community Development, said the department initiated 411 weed, junk and litter cases last month, which included 221 weed-abatement cases, 107 junk cases and 18 cases on property maintenance.

Jordan said her staff continues to adequately address complaints without employee overtime.

“But if we keep seeing these kinds of numbers,” additional help could be warranted, Jordan said. “We’re almost at 80 to 90 cases per inspector per month, and we’re not in the (height) of the growing season yet.”

A potential case

One of the homes soon to come under the city’s radar is 2805 Upper River Road S.E. The Daily received complaints about the home, relating to junked cars visible from Alabama 67, one of the city’s main thoroughfares near Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge.

Seven cars were parked in the yard Thursday. One was resting on concrete blocks, another was partially covered with a tarp, and a pickup is missing its front grill, headlights and possibly the bed.

The Daily contacted Janie Field, who owns the rental home. She said she was aware of the cars and that she had also received complaints.

“I’ve complained, and I’m ready for them to move them,” Field said. “I’ve said there have been complaints from the neighbors in the neighborhood and that something needs to be done about the yard.”

A good tenant

Field said Michelle Easterly is such a good tenant, who never complains like previous tenants when things break, that she hesitated to force the issue.

Easterly said she thought the property was outside the city limits. She said the cars belong to her boyfriend, who is repairing them. They plan to move the cars soon, she said.

City Planning Department and Morgan County 911 Central Dispatch records show the property is within the city limits and is commercially zoned.

City ordinances require residents to house inoperable cars within an approved, enclosed, covered structure so they can’t be viewed from a public right of way.

The ordinance doesn’t apply to junkyards or automotive dealers.

Because the Upper River Road property is apparently on the edge of the city limits, Jordan said she would have someone in her department map it to determine whether it is subject to city code.

Most residents comply

Most residents comply with Decatur’s weed, junk and litter ordinance once the city becomes involved, Jordan said. She said 95 percent or more of the cases investigated by the city are corrected and closed within the time allowed.

The length of time it takes to correct eyesores is case dependent, said David Lee, a code-enforcement officer with the city.

Researching who owns the property, so the city can give proper legal notice to the homeowner, can be time-consuming, Jordan said.

Lee said deed research sometimes extends to the office of the secretary of state. Corporations own some properties, making it difficult to identify an owner. They also research foreclosures and bankruptcies, and use contract employees if the process is too time-consuming.

“We used an analogy before that you can catch them, but somebody’s got to clean and cook them,” Lee said.

As of Friday, the department backlog dated only to Tuesday, Lee said.

“We’re trying to stay current,” Lee said.

Jordan said the city’s weed, junk and litter ordinance adequately addresses most complaints, and that a stiffer ordinance isn’t necessary to enforce the current code.

Lee said a weed, junk and litter violation hasn’t been appealed to Circuit Court in at least seven years.

“Most of the cases are resolved,” Lee said. “Last month we issued 20 court summons. ... I don’t know if we’re on track to have that number again, but the percentage of people who comply with the initial order is pretty high.”

Call 341-4963 to report a possible violation of the city’s weed, junk and litter ordinance.

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